“From Attila to Basie
By JON POTTER, Reformer Staff
Thursday, October 26
BRATTLEBORO -- The first time Grant Langford was in Vermont, he got lost.
A sax player about 15 years old, Langford was the youngest person attending the Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Workshops back in the early 1990s and was on stage performing, when he veered off course.
We were playing 'Have You Met Miss Jones,' and I got completely lost. I didn't know where I was. In my head, I was thinking, how can I get out of this? It was probably only 30 seconds or so, but it seemed like forever," he recalled, warmly.
Langford will have an easier time finding his way on his next trip to Vermont. He's gone from the youngest musician at the VJC's Summer Workshop to the newest member of the Count Basie Orchestra ... which just happens to be performing at the Latchis Theater on Saturday.
Langford's two summers at the VJC workshop were challenging. He was young, in the company of more polished musicians and often tested beyond his abilities. "I do remember Howard (Brofsky) taught a theory class, which was way over my head at the time," he recalled.
But for all the stories he tells about lost, Langford actually credits the Vermont Jazz Center for helping him find his way -- a road which will ultimately bring him back here for Saturday's concert.
It was definitely one of the things that led me to music school and to pursue a career," Langford said.
Being in the company of Attila Zoller, Pete Yellin, Fred Haas, George Mraz, Nick Brignola and other accomplished musicians who were VJC summer faculty, taught him many things -- creativity, how to listen, how to find his voice -- but the biggest impression, he said, was to see the passion for playing all these musicians had.
He said he found the VJC to be an inclusive, nurturing place.
I was the youngest person there, but it wasn't really a big issue," Langford said. "It was great. It was the first time I really got to play with other people."
Langford recalled riding in the back seat with Zoller at the wheel on their way to the faculty concert at the Mole's Eye. "It was just like a regular gig," he said.
The musicians at the workshop took their music seriously, but they always had fun playing, and that's something else Langford took away from his time in Vermont.
Most of the time, you're very comfortable with what you're doing," Langford said. "That's something I've seen lately, playing with the Count Basie Orchestra."
Fueled by his experience at the VJC Summer Workshop, Langford went on to study at the New England Conservatory, graduating with a bachelor's in jazz studies in 1999. Since then he has performed with the Valery Ponomarev Sextet, George Glee, Cab Calloway and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestras. He was the first recipient of the 2003 Young Lion award by the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium. He has also performed as a sideman with the Ray Charles Orchestra. His most recent recording is the 2004 release by The Brooklyn Soul Organization, featuring saxophonist Bradford Leali, organist Radam Schwartz and drummer Jerome Jennings.
In 2005, he was approached to see if he would sit in with the Count Basie Orchestra, switching from tenor to alto sax. After a two-week trial, director Bill Hughes asked him if a spot in the band would suit the life of this young family man.
It's pretty grueling, a lot of all-nighters and a lot of travel," Langford admitted. But there have been no regrets.
You learn a lot. I tell everyone, this is my master's," he said.
One of only two musicians under 30 in the Basie Orchestra, Langford said it's a great experience for young players to hone their chops, to learn how to play within the group and also to develop his own voice.
The innovators all came through the Big Band era, and you wonder why is that?" he said.
Langford is looking forward to playing at the Latchis and rekindling his connection to the VJC.
That's going to be great. We haven't kept in touch, but when I e-mailed Howard (Brofsky), he was floored," Langford said.
For more information, visit www.langfordjazz.com.”
- Jon Potter
The Brattleboro Reformer